NINJA: THE SHO KOSUGI STORY

Chapter III: The Ninja Years (1981-1987)

After 8 years of working as an extra and doing minor roles, Sho would finally get his big movie break when famed karate competitor Mike Stone successfully pitched a story he wrote called "Dance of Death" to Cannon FilmsStone assembled a group of martial artists to play ninja warriors and to work as stuntmen in the film and asked his friend Sho to be one of them.  Re-titled ENTER THE NINJA, the film was shot on location in the Philippines from January to February 1981.  Very early in the production, Stone, who was to have been the film's lead, had some sort of falling out with producer Menahem Golan and was replaced with actor Franco Nero, who was attending the Manila Film Festival.  Despite this, Stone stayed on as the film's main fight choreographer, stunt coordinator, and double for Nero's character.

 

 

At the same time, Menahem Golan, co-head of Cannon with his cousin Yoram Globus, reportedly unsatisfied with what he was seeing from director Emmett Alston, demoted him to second unit director and took over as director on the film.  Reportedly on the day after he'd removed both Stone as star and Alston as director, Golan summoned Sho to his office for a meeting.  Fearing that he was the next one to be fired, Sho was relieved and surprised when Golan told him that he was so impressed with his amazing martial arts skills and natural acting ability, that he wanted to rework the script and make him a full fledged co-star in the film.  Incredibly, while growing up in Japan, even before he started studying the martial arts at age 5, Sho had dreamt of being a movie star, covering his face like a ninja and acting out sword fights with bamboo sticks like the ones he'd seen in films like Kurama Tengu (鞍馬天狗).  It was as though his childhood dream had suddenly become a reality.

 

 

Also co-starring in the film were Susan George, Alex Courtney, Dale Ishimoto, and Christopher George.  Along with playing the ninja assassin Hasegawa, Sho also doubled for many of the maroon ninja warriors in the film's opening alongside fellow martial artists Alan Amiel and Doug Ivan (son of Dan Ivan), and also doubled for the white ninja (Franco Nero's character) in some scenes.

 

 

When ENTER THE NINJA was released in the fall of 1981, it sparked a martial arts craze not seen since the emergence of Bruce Lee nearly a decade earlier.  Sho's scene-stealing performance, which included an incredible title sequence, an awesome jungle ninja battle, a nightmare-inducing assassination mission, and an exciting final duel between Sho's character and the white ninja (doubled by Mike Stone), immediately earned Sho a devoted fan following, eagerly awaiting this great martial artist's next project.  As the saying goes, "a star was born", and so was the "ninja craze" of the 1980s.

 






In 1982, as plans were underway to bring Eric Van Lustbader's New York Times best-selling novel THE NINJA to the big screen, Sho met with Irvin Kershner (director of "The Empire Strikes Back") and Richard D. Zanuck & David Brown (producers of "Jaws"), to discuss his possible involvement in the film.  Fresh off of ENTER THE NINJA, Sho was very intrigued at the idea of making a much bigger budgeted ninja movie for a top Hollywood studio.  At this point in time, 20th Century Fox had the property, and producers Zanuck and Brown wanted to spend around 15 million dollars, which was apparently a stumbling block.  As more and more low budget ninja movies were being made, 20th Century Fox was reticent to commit to such a big budget, fearing they might not be able to recoup their investment.

Eventually, after famed horror director John Carpenter was attached to the project (replacing Kersher) and they had gone through 3 screenwriters, a new head of production was hired at 20th Century Fox and the project was shelved.






While Sho was out promoting the US release of ENTER THE NINJA, he also attended a Ninjutsu Tournament held at the Copa West Club in Phoenix, Arizona.  Sho not only served as a judge at the event, but he also participated in a demonstration of ninja weapons techniques with his student Eddie Tse, a black belt and weapons expert who would play an important part in Sho's next film.  A report of the event was featured a few months later in the March 1982 issue of Black Belt Magazine.

 







Following the success of ENTER THE NINJA, the Cannon Group's head honcho Menahem Golan phoned Sho and told him they wanted to do a second ninja film entitled REVENGE OF THE NINJA, and that this time around Sho would be the lead and play the hero.  For about six months during the pre-production and script writing process in 1982, Sho repeatedly suggested that they do a father and son story and use his real life son Kane, who was already an accomplished martial artist in his own right.  Golan refused to take the idea seriously, apparently feeling that having two Asian leads in an American film wouldn't work, wanting instead to pair Sho with a white actor.  Refusing to take no for an answer, Sho finally convinced Golan to allow Kane to do a 2 minute demonstration for him.

 

After getting his mother to send him some traditional clothing from Japan and dressing Kane in them, Sho had his son, whom he'd been training in the martial arts since he could walk, demonstrate his skills with a katana.  Wowed by what Sho's young son could do, Golan enthusiastically agreed to use him in the film.

 

 

A short time later, the Cannon Group's second ninja film, REVENGE OF THE NINJA, went into production.  Shot on location in Salt Lake City, Utah from September to November 1982, the film put Sho firmly in the lead role of reluctant Iga ninja master Cho Osaki, who after the brutal killing of his family by a group of Koga ninja in his native Japan, moves to the U.S. with his mother and infant son.  After a rival ninja once again threatens his family, Sho's character realizes that a ninja can't escape his destiny, and faces his enemy in a battle to the death.

 

 

Upon seeing the finished film, MGM/UA, the big Hollywood company that had distributed ENTER THE NINJA on VHS, was so impressed with REVENGE OF THE NINJA and its potential at the box office, that they decided to handle the theatrical distribution. Their gamble paid off when the film was released in September 1983, as REVENGE OF THE NINJA was a huge box office success, and established Sho as one of the world's most popular action stars.  The film also introduced movie audience's to Sho's real-life sons.  As previously mentioned, his eldest son Kane, who was only 8 years old at the time, played Sho's son in the film and his performance is quite impressive with Kane displaying some truly incredible martial arts skills.  Sho's youngest son Shane also appears briefly in the film's opening as his character's first son who's killed by a shuriken.  Rounding out the solid cast for the film were Keith Vitali, Virgil Frye, Arthur Roberts, Mario Gallo, Grace Oshita, and Ashley Ferrare.

 

 

Along with his starring role, Sho also served as the film's fight choreographer, and also doubled for the evil Masked Ninja in many sequences.  And through Sho Kosugi Ninja Enterprises Inc., a company he formed in 1982 with Mikio Sankey, Sho also designed and manufactured a number of ninja weapons featured in the film, including his signature ninja sword, the Sho Kosugi Ninja-To (or SK Ninja-To for short).

 

 

REVENGE OF THE NINJA, written by James R. Silke and directed by Sam Firstenberg, is considered by many to be the best modern-day ninja movie ever made.  This is no doubt due in large part to the numerous and impressive action scenes, which feature Sho at his very best.  The high level of martial arts proficiency and ingenuity displayed in these fight scenes, which were all choreographed by Sho, is due in no small part to the fact that every Friday since filming ENTER THE NINJA, Sho had a special 3 hour class at his studio from 7:30 to 10:30 just to practice special choreography and fighting sequences for REVENGE OF THE NINJA.  Many of Sho's opponents in the film were Sho's real-life students, including black belts Alan Amiel, who played the Red Ninja Leader in the opening sequence, and Eddie Tse, who doubled for the Masked Ninja in the film's climactic final duel against Sho's character.  Also delivering in the martial arts department was Karate champion Keith Vitali, playing police Karate instructor and Cho's friend, Dave Hatcher.

 

Sho vs. Alan Amiel as the Red Ninja Leader

Sho vs. Keith Vitali as Dave Hatcher

Sho vs. Eddie Tse as the Masked Ninja Double

 

REVENGE OF THE NINJA was not only the Cannon Group's most successful ninja movie at the box office, but it was also a ground-breaking film on a number of important levels.  First, whereas ENTER THE NINJA introduced the ninja to much of the world, it was REVENGE OF THE NINJA that truly cemented the "ninja movie" as a viable and popular genre across the globe.  Second, and even more noteworthy, the film was most likely the first Hollywood film in which an Asian-born performer was given the lone lead credit.  Even the legendary Bruce Lee had to share top billing with his American counterpart John Saxon in his only Hollywood starring vehicle ENTER THE DRAGON.  For Sho to have received the lone pre-title star credit on just his second American film is an incredible testament to the confidence that Cannon placed in him and his star power.

 






Riding the wave of success from their first 2 ninja films, the Cannon Group immediately began working on a third entry, NINJA III: THE DOMINATION, in what would ultimately be the final installment in "The Ninja Trilogy".  Once again, Sho would be the star and, just like in REVENGE OF THE NINJA, director Sam Firstenberg would be working from a script written by James R. Silke.  Filmed on location in Phoenix, Arizona from October to December 1983, NINJA III: THE DOMINATION, co-starring Lucinda Dickey, Jordan Bennett, David Chung, Dale Ishimoto, and James Hong, followed the basic formula established in ENTER THE NINJA and REVENGE OF THE NINJA, while adding an element of the supernatural to the mix.

 

 

In the film, Sho's character Yamada, a mysterious ninja who wears a tsuba (sword guard) over his left eye, comes to the U.S. from Japan to do battle with an old enemy.  In death, Yamada's enemy, the Black Ninja (played by David Chung), had possessed the body of a young aerobics instructor named Christie (played by Lucinda Dickey), forcing her to take revenge on the policemen responsible for his death.

 

 

It's unclear where the idea of having a ninja-possessed female aerobics instructor came from.  Some reports claim it was devised by producer Menahem Golan in an attempt to combine elements from the movies "Poltergeist" (or "The Exorcist") and "Flashdance" with martial arts action. Another report claims  that director Sam Firstenberg came up with the ninja possession idea in order to appease Sho who didn't feel that a regular female ninja would have the power needed to be convincing to the audience.  This supernatural twist reportedly convinced Sho, possibly due to the fact that it inadvertently paid homage to the supernatural ninja movies he'd seen as a boy in Japan.  And speaking of homages, the tsuba eye-patch worn by Sho's character Yamada in the film was Sho's idea and is a tribute to the legendary 17th century samurai/ninja Jūbei Yagyū (柳生十兵衞).

 

 

As in his previous ninja epics, Sho also did double duty on the film, acting as star and fight choreographer, and once again bringing in Alan Amiel to double for the evil Black Ninja.  Released by MGM/UA in the fall of 1984, NINJA III: THE DOMINATION was another, albeit lesser, box office smash for Sho, establishing him as the most visible and sought after ninja actor in the world.

 

 

Unfortunately, the release of NINJA III: THE DOMINATION also marked an end to the mutually profitable partnership between Sho and the Cannon Group.  A couple of factors appear to have contributed to this parting of ways.  The first being a reported falling out of sorts between Sho and Menahem Golan over the film and its lessened focus on Sho's character.  This is evidenced by the removal of at least one major sequence from the final film that featured Sho's character and his father fending off and being captured by the Black Ninja and his ninja warriors, and ultimately ending with Sho freeing himself after losing an eye, killing the remaining ninja warriors, and vowing over his father's dead body to get revenge on the Black Ninja, who by that point had escaped.  It's an absolute travesty that all but a few seconds of this incredible sequence was cut from the film.  It was hoped that this scene (or scenes) would be restored or at least included as extras on DVD and Blu-ray releases, but thus far all that fans have of this missing piece is in the form of brief clips on a VHS trailer and in still photographs.  A second factor that undoubtedly played a part in Sho's decision to depart Cannon Films, was the interest from other production companies to get Sho for their ninja projects, which he took them up on.

 






Much in demand, Sho's next project was the American Television series THE MASTER co-starring Lee Van Cleef as the ninja master John Peter McAllister and Timothy Van Patten as his sidekick Max Keller, who together travel the U.S. in search of the master's long-lost daughter, while Sho as the ninja assassin Okasa pursues them and tries to end his former master's life.  Shot on location in Los Angeles, California from December 1983 to May 1984, forcing Sho to fly back and forth from Phoenix, Arizona where he was completing NINJA III: THE DOMINATION, THE MASTER TV series, a co-production between Michael Sloan Productions and Viacom Productions, aired on NBC from January 20, 1984 to August 31, 1984.

 

 

Sho appeared in all 13 episodes of THE MASTER doubling for Lee Van Cleef's character.  Sho's character Okasa was also featured prominently in 5 of the series' best episodes.  And as if his plate wasn't already full enough starring as one character and doing the fighting for two characters, Sho also served as fight choreographer, ninja technical advisor, and co-stunt coordinator on the series.

 

 

Despite the continuing growth in popularity in all things ninja-related at the time, THE MASTER did not return after its initial 13 episode run.  No doubt contributing to the series' cancellation was its Friday night timeslot up against the huge hit "Dallas".  Also working against it was the show's writing, which for the most part was not very good.  When asked about this in an interview, Sho stated that he'd hoped the series and storylines would be more serious in tone, more along the lines of the classic "Kung Fu" TV series starring David Carradine, and had brought this up to the producers and writers, but it was not to be.

 

 

Another element that misfired for THE MASTER was Lee Van Cleef.  Actor James Coburn, a pupil of the late Bruce Lee, was originally tapped to star, but he pulled out.  Steve Forrest and Stuart Whitman were then considered, but the role ultimately went to Van Cleef.  Although a fine actor, probably best known for his many Spaghetti Westerns, Van Cleef had no martial arts background and was also suffering from a bad back and bad knees and thus was horribly miscast in the role of the spry ninja master.  Nevertheless, the show did have some fantastic fight sequences, choreographed and performed by Sho, Alan Amiel, Ed Anders and a number of other real-life martial artists.  Another high point was the guest appearance of Sho's son Kane in the show's final episode which ended with Kane fighting Van Cleef's character (doubled by Sho).

 

 

THE MASTER also marked the first time that Sho's real voice was heard on screen, having been dubbed by voice actors with similar tones in his films for Cannon because the producers felt his accent was too thick.  A year or so after it went off the air THE MASTER found new life and gained new fans when Trans World Entertainment (TWE) released it on Home Video as "THE MASTER NINJA".

 






For his next movie project, Sho travelled to the Philippines where he shot the film 9 DEATHS OF THE NINJA from May to June 1984.  Co-starring Brent Huff, Emilia Lesniak, Regina Richardson, Vijay Amritraj, Lisa Friedman, Kane Kosugi, Shane Kosugi, and Blackie Dammett, the film was not only a return to the Philippines for Sho, having previously worked there when he was filming ENTER THE NINJA three years earlier in 1981, but it also marked a new beginning for him.  Produced by Amritraj Productions and released through Crown International Pictures, this was Sho's first ninja film not produced by the Cannon Group, and unfortunately the end result was quite disappointing to both Sho and a substantial portion of his fans.

 

 

Although 9 DEATHS OF THE NINJA was always meant to be a more light-hearted James Bond-like action-comedy than Sho's 3 previous ninja movies had been, with Sho's character Spike Shinobi, codenamed "lollipop", being the Japanese counterpart of an international anti-terrorist group called D.A.R.T., unfortunately some of the choices and performances in the film made it come off as more of a silly spoof than an action film with comedic elements.  It also didn't help that after filming of 9 DEATHS OF THE NINJA was completed and Sho had returned to the U.S., the film was badly edited together and his voice was poorly dubbed with a ridiculously deep American accent.  The film also suffered from some truly horrible and over-the-top acting on the part of the film's villains.

 

 

On the bright side, 9 DEATHS OF THE NINJA did feature some very cool fight scenes choreographed by Sho and performed by him and his team, which once again included Alan Amiel and Sho's 2 sons, Kane and Shane.  Another highlight was the flashback sequence showing how Sho's character had left his ninja group.

 

 

9 DEATHS OF THE NINJA also featured some stunning cinematography courtesy of the director of photography, Roy H. Wagner.  Ultimately though, the end result left Sho with a bad taste in his mouth and he vowed to become more involved in the pre-production, casting, and editing of his next films.

 

 

As an interesting side note, 9 DEATHS OF THE NINJA was filmed ironically enough under the working title "American Ninja", the same title that Cannon Films had planned to use for their next ninja movie (and first without Sho), which was also shot in the Philippines around the same time.  If that wasn't odd enough, the writer/director of Sho's film was none other than Emmett Alston, the original director of ENTER THE NINJA whom Cannon co-head Menahem Golan had demoted to second unit director and taken over for on that film.  It's unclear which project had the "American Ninja" title first, and if Alston pitched his script to Cannon before taking it elsewhere, but it's interesting that an early pre-casting poster for Cannon's "American Ninja" featured the infamous jump-kick shot of Sho used on the ENTER THE NINJA poster.  9 DEATHS OF THE NINJA was also briefly referred to by the title "The Deadly Warrior", possibly due to the title conflict with the Cannon film.  Ultimately, the right film ended up with the "American Ninja" title, at least in most markets.  9 DEATHS OF THE NINJA was actually released as "American Ninja" in France, while Cannon's "American Ninja" was released as "American Warrior" (the title Cannon had used in its theatrical trailers for the film) in both France and the U.K.

 

Sho on the original poster for Cannon's 'American Ninja'

French '9 Deaths of the Ninja' poster

French '9 Deaths of the Ninja' lobby card

 

Not surprisingly, considering how successful their ninja films with Sho had been, Cannon had planned for and wanted Sho to be in their "American Ninja" film (presumably when Chuck Norris was attached to the project), but Sho turned it down and recommended that they call Mike Stone, thus in essence paying his friend back for his big break in ENTER THE NINJA.  Though Sho was not involved in any way with the Cannon film, director Sam Firstenberg who directed Sho in both REVENGE OF THE NINJA and NINJA III: THE DOMINATION, stated that Sho had taught him everything he knew about the ninja and that Sho's influence was there when he made the first "American Ninja" film for Cannon.  As cool as that is, it appears that Firstenberg forgot everything that Sho had taught him by the time he directed "American Ninja 2", because in that lame sequel ninja were no longer highly skilled and lethal martial arts warriors with years of training.  They were nothing more than clones manufactured in a lab that were easily defeated and inexplicably killed by Mike Stone's character to show how 'valuable' these supposedly skilled ninja clones were to potential buyers.






The next film that Sho worked on was a wonderful coming of age drama initially called "Hanauma Bay", later to be known as "Made in Hawaii", and finally released as ALOHA SUMMER.  Filmed on location in beautiful Honolulu, Hawaii, with Sho filming his part in July 1984, the sentimental drama set in the summer of 1959 revolves around a group of teenagers of differing ethnicities and economic backgrounds coming together, becoming friends, and growing up.  Sho plays the part of Yukinaga Konishi (小西行長) , a traditional and strict Japanese father, who, like his namesake/ancestor (a 16th century samurai daimyo), is himself a modern-day samurai who lives by the code of Bushido, teaching the art of Kendo to his son Kenzo (played by Yuji Okumoto).

 

 

The part of Yukinaga Konishi in ALOHA SUMMER called for Sho to appear much older than his 36 years and to speak for the most part in his native Japanese.  Although a special appearance supporting role, the film offered Sho the opportunity to play his first non-ninja character in a while and to shine as an actor, and he delivers one his most powerful performances ever.

 

 

While on the set, Sho met and worked with Japanese-Canadian actor Robert Ito and asked him to play his father in his upcoming ninja film PRAY FOR DEATH.  The cast of ALOHA SUMMER also included Chris Makepeace, Don Michael Paul, Andy Bumatai, Warren Fabro, Blaine Kia, Scott Nakagawa, Ric Mancini, Lorie Griffin, Teri Ann Linn, Marina Ferrier, and marked the screen debut of actress Tia Carrere.

 

 

For whatever reason, with the exception of a few random showings in 1985 and 1986, ALOHA SUMMER, directed by Tommy Lee Wallace from a script by Mike Greco and Bob Benedetto, was not seen by the public until its brief theatrical run starting in February 1988 and its subsequent release on Warner Bros. Home Video and Laserdisc that same year, some four years after it was made.

 






A few months after filming his scenes for ALOHA SUMMER, Sho began work on his next ninja film, PRAY FOR DEATH.  Produced by Trans World Entertainment (TWE), a rival to Cannon Films, PRAY FOR DEATH was filmed on location in Houston, Texas and Los Angeles, California from October to December 1984, and marked Sho's return to a more serious type of ninja movie after the disappointment of the lighthearted action-comedy 9 DEATHS OF THE NINJA.  Very similar in theme and tone to REVENGE OF THE NINJA, the film revolves around a reluctant master ninja named Akira Saito who moves his Japanese-American wife and 2 young sons to the U.S. from Japan hoping to achieve the "American Dream" but finding a nightmare instead.

 

 

In PRAY FOR DEATH, Kane and Shane once again share the screen with their father, playing Sho's 2 sons Takeshi and Tomoya, while Donna Kei Benz plays the boys' mother and Sho's wife Aiko.  Also appearing in the film were James Booth as Limehouse, Norman Burton as Lt. Anderson, Matthew Faison as Sgt. Daley, Parley Baer as Sam Green, Robert Ito as Koga, and Michael Constantine as Mr. Newman.  Along with his starring role as Akira Saito, Sho also has appears as "The Black Ninja" in the cool scene from the Japanese Jidai-Geki (period) Ninja TV series of the same name that opens the film.

 

 

Blessed with a compelling story by James Booth, solid direction from director Gordon Hessler, great production values, beautiful cinematography by Roy H. Wagner, and Sho's involvement not only as star and fight choreographer but also as consultant in the editing process, PRAY FOR DEATH was another huge box office smash for Sho, even garnering positive reviews from the mainstream press.  The film also has the unique distinction of being the first foreign-made ninja movie to be released theatrically in Sho's native Japan.

 

 

In May 1985, to help promote the film's upcoming release, Sho attended the Cannes Film Festival in France and was delighted to discover how popular his movies were in Europe.  One day, while on the yacht provided to him by Trans World Entertainment, the film company responsible for PRAY FOR DEATH, Sho received a visit from film legend Clint EastwoodSho and Clint spent the afternoon together discussing films and the martial arts.

 

 

Shortly thereafter, in the summer of 1985, Sho was offered his own ninja TV series.  Weighing the pros and cons of doing a weekly television show and remembering how little time he was allotted to choreograph the fight scenes on THE MASTER TV Series, he decided to pass and focus on his film career instead.






Sho next turned his attention to shooting an instructional home video entitled MASTER CLASS.  Produced by and featuring Sho's frequent collaborator Alan Amiel, in conjunction with Trans World Entertainment (TWE), the 60-minute video directed by Danielle Kail was hosted by Sho and featured him and his son Kane demonstrating a multitude of self-defense techniques involving both unarmed and armed attackers.  In between these self-defense lessons are scenes from Sho's film PRAY FOR DEATHSho and Kane also demonstrate some basic sword and nunchaku techniques.  A full series of self-defense home videos was planned and mentioned by Sho at the end of MASTER CLASS, but unfortunately these never materialized.

 






Around this time, Sho also shot 13 different segments for Trans World Entertainment for use in their video collection NINJA THEATER HOSTED BY SHO KOSUGI.  As the title suggests, these short segments featured Sho hosting a film presentation by introducing a weapon and then a short fight scene involving Sho using this weapon was shown. 

 

The 13 weapons presented and used by Sho in these segments were "KATANA" (Ninja-To), "SHIKOMIZUE", "BO", "YARI", "KAMA", "MANRIKI-GUSARI" (Kusari-Fundo), "TEKAGI", "SHOBO", "NINJA FAN", "NUNCHAKU", "TONFA", "JITTE", and "SELF DEFENSE".

 

 

The NINJA THEATER HOSTED BY SHO KOSUGI segments were unquestionably the highlight on these tapes, as most of the films in the collection were cheaply-produced English-dubbed Hong Kong Chop Socky films.  It should be noted that Sho had nothing to do with these films and DID NOT appear in any of them.  Unfortunately, after the initial releases, some of Sho's segments were re-used and paired with some of the truly terrible cut-and-paste ninja films that were saturating the market and would soon help put an end to the worldwide ninja craze.

 






With Sho's popularity soaring worldwide, more and more fans were joining the official SHO KOSUGI NINJA FAN CLUB during this time.  Members received glossy 8x10 promotional photos of Sho from his many movie and TV projects, a membership certificate, a membership card, a membership patch, and regular fan club newsletters updating his fans on projects that Sho was working on at the time, as well as new projects he was planning to do in the future.

SHO KOSUGI NINJA FAN CLUB members were also known to receive other cool items such as posters and holiday cards, often sent and autographed by Sho personally.

 

 

Fan club members also received discounts on the wide variety of items being sold by SHO KOSUGI NINJA ENTERPRISES INC.  This included posters, VHS copies of Sho's movies, numerous magazines that featured Sho, and a large number of martial arts weapons (some specially designed by Sho himself), training equipment, and uniforms, etc...  Two of the most notable and prized items, were the official Sho Kosugi Ninja-To and the Sho Kosugi Ninja Uniform, both of which were featured and used by Sho in a number of his ninja projects.

 






Following up the success of PRAY FOR DEATH, Sho quickly moved on to his next ninja movie, RAGE OF HONOR.  The film's original working title was "Way of the Ninja" and according to an early promotional poster it was supposed to co-star Telly Savalas of "Kojak" fame.  However, by the time filming began in November 1985, he was no longer in the cast.  Appearing alongside Sho instead were Lewis Van Bergen, Robin Evans, Gerry Gibson, and Chip Lucia.  Shot on location in Phoenix, Arizona and in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the film had Sho playing a ninja-skilled DIB (Drug Investigation Bureau) Agent named Shiro Tanaka who seeks to settle the score with the drug dealers who killed his partner.  Filming was completed in April 1986 and the film was released as RAGE OF HONOR in February 1987.

 

 

Produced by Trans World Entertainment and directed by Gordon Hessler from a screenplay by Robert Short and Wallace Bennett, RAGE OF HONOR was meant to be the film that would begin Sho's transition from ninja-only roles to more mainstream secret agent type roles.  Having already played ninja characters in 5 movies, a TV series, an instructional home video, numerous video segments, and countless photo shoots, Sho was hoping to play a wider variety of roles now that the ninja craze was past its prime. Nevertheless, though the title may have changed from "Way of the Ninja" to RAGE OF HONOR, Sho's role as a modern "ninja secret agent" and the story's other ninja content, as evidenced by the original promotional poster, remained virtually unchanged.  In fact, not only does RAGE OF HONOR feature the shikomizue and tekko-kagi (aka master tekagi) that Sho is shown wielding on the “Way of the Ninja” poster, but the film features him using ninja weapons and gadgets, both traditional and modernized, more frequently than he does in probably all of his previous ninja outings. Sho's seemingly endless arsenal of ninja weapons, many of which were specially designed by Sho, also include regular shuriken, exploding shuriken, smoke bombs, bladed mini-nunchaku, and the awesome shuko-arrow.  Wearing a tuxedo by day and dark clothing by night, Sho's James Bond-like character can best be described as a "Ninja 007" or as one magazine writer aptly called him, "00-Sho".  In many ways RAGE OF HONOR is the film that 9 DEATHS OF THE NINJA should have been.

 

 

As with Sho's previous films, the action quota in RAGE OF HONOR is very high with Sho once again choreographing the fight scenes, including some particularly great ones against 2 black ninja assassins played by Argentine-based Japanese martial artists Masafumi Sakanashi and Kiyatsu Shimoyama in a prison, and one against a group of camouflage ninja warriors in the Argentinean jungle.

 

 

Sho also performed many of his own stunts in RAGE OF HONOR.  In one scene, Sho was supposed to jump over a pit 12 feet by 8 feet by 20 feet deep.  As he reached the other side, the special effects technician was supposed to create an explosion.  However, unable to see, the special effects man set off the explosion prematurely, catching Sho in the air.  Sho received 2nd degree burns on his left leg and was taken to the Emergency Room.  Once he recovered, he returned to finish the film.

 

 

RAGE OF HONOR would not only be the last in a string of 6 ninja movies for Sho, but it also proved to be the final project that Sho's frequent collaborator Alan Amiel would be involved in.  Amiel, who would go on to produce a wide variety of movies after this film, had appeared in all of Sho's ninja movies (doubling many of Sho's opponents), as well as THE MASTER TV series, and the MASTER CLASS and NINJA THEATER videos.  And as the only person to work with Sho on virtually all of his ninja projects, he'd also been invaluable in helping Sho as Assistant Fight/Martial Arts Choreographer, Stunt Coordinator, Action Coordinator, and Producer on many of these.

 






In October 1986, Sho filmed his first TV commercial for the new HONDA HURRICANE Motorcycle.  This clever promo directed by Dickson Sorenson had Sho dressed in full ninja costume and holding a katana (ninja sword) as he stealthily moved inside a traditional Japanese house while a hurricane raged outside.  The accompanying voice-over stating:

"The ninja... his strength and swiftness have become legend... but even the ninja knows all things must hide from the hurricane. Hurricane Honda... it will come in the spring of the new year." The suggestion of course being that the Kawasaki NINJA and Suzuki KATANA motorcycles were no match for the new Honda HURRICANE motorcycle.

 






In the early part of 1987, Sho joined a group called NAD (Ninjas Against Drugs) headed up by Michael DePasquale Jr. and the staff at NINJA THE DEADLY WARRIOR magazine.  This organization was dedicated to helping young people learn the facts about drugs and most importantly learn to say NO to drugs.

Over the next few months, Sho contributed to the magazine via the "Sho Kosugi: His Personal Thoughts" interview in the April issue, and by answering fan mail and giving updates on his projects via the "Sho Kosugi's Mail Bag" and the "Sho Kosugi Ninja News" sections of the April and June issues.